Government warns of possible outbreak of Polio; Assures of measures being taken to contain the situation

Though it’s just one reported case of Poliomyelitis (polio) from one of unnamed districts of the country and it being a very infectious disease, the Ministry of Health warns the public that this is a disabling and life threatening disease, which can be easily passed from one person to another through ingestion of food or water which is contaminated with polio virus.

In a public notice, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said on Thursday that the Ministry has in place Independent National Polio Expert Committees (National Expert Committee and the National Polio Certification Committee) which oversee and coordinate the polio surveillance and reporting system in the Country in line with the WHO recommendations.

“In line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance and the International Health Regulations (IHR), the country is immediately putting in place additional activities in order to contain the situation in the country.

“The first step is declaring this as a Public Health Emergency. There will be Emergence Operations Committee meetings and a risk assessment of the situation will be done with support from our partners such as the WHO.

“We will also work very closely with our neighbouring countries and diseases know no borders.”

The Minister also said laboratory results show that this is an imported virus as there is no evidence of community circulation of the virus and assures the nation that the situation is under control.

“We would like to encourage the general public to continue observing good personal hygiene practice as we know that the virus is spread through ingestion of contaminated food or water.”

She disclosed that the high risk group are those that are unvaccinated or those that have received fewer doses of polio vaccines.

“Poliovirus causes irreversible paralysis disease mainly in children zero to fifteen years of age. It also has a potential to infect immunocompromised adults.

“Normally a child would present to a health facility with acute onset of limb weakness which progresses to paralysis. If it is a leg or an arm, it may become relatively smaller (wasted) than the normal body mass and loses function because it is weaker than the rest of the body.

She assured the public that the Ministry of Health — with support from partners — has put in place strategies for elimination of polio in the country, saying these strategies are in line with the strategies recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) through the Global Polio End Game Strategy.

“Vaccines are the most effective and available prevention strategy for this disease in addition to improved water and sanitation practices. Worldwide, we still have few countries mainly out side Africa where Wild Polio Virus type 1 is endemic.

“The Malawi Government established the National Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in 1979 to deal with vaccine preventable diseases including Polio, Measles and Neonatal Tetanus.

“These diseases are undergoing eradication and elimination. The Ministry has, therefore, intensified surveillance for these diseases in line with the WHO recommendations.”

She further said Malawi has sustained good coverages of all its vaccine antigen above 80% now for two decades and polio vaccine is no exception.

“Like many other countries in the world, Malawi provides polio vaccine that targets Polio virus type 1 and type 3 following the eradication of Polio virus type 2 many years back.

“We are also vaccinating our children with Inactivated Polio Virus vaccine with sustained good coverage to date since introduction in 2018 and the Immunization program also joined the global efforts to eradicate polio completely.

“As such, we have been implementing polio disease surveillance to ensure that we are able to pick any polio case within our communities and avoid further spread.

“Our partners like WHO, UNICEF and many others have been key stakeholders in strengthening the Global Polio Eradication Strategy. The last polio case in Malawi was reported in 1992 — meaning that this is the first case in 30 years.”

She also assured the public that Malawi also obtained a Polio-free status in 2005 while the WHO African region received its Polio-free status certificate in the year 2020.

“These are remarkable milestones in the polio eradication initiative in the country. In practice, any suspected child from zero to 15 years of age — coming with acute onset of flaccid paralysis or weakness — is supposed to be reported as a suspected Polio case.

“The requirement is to report 2 non-polio AFP per 100,000 as well as adequate stool specimen. Malawi has been meeting these indicators throughout the years and sustained its Polio surveillance robustly.”

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